Biomass is an incredibly important field within the broader subject of renewable energy and electricity generation. Not only can biomass be used as biofuel (such as the increasingly popular biodiesel) but it can also be used to create gases such as methane which can in turn be used for generating electricity. Whilst biomass based fuels are still part of the carbon cycle, meaning that they do produce carbon emissions, many of the techniques used to harness the energy of biomass reduces or eliminates harmful chemicals and gases which would otherwise have been released during their natural decomposition.
A Renewable Resource
Many people believe that is preferable to use biomass fuel rather than fossil fuel, as the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from biomass fuels was originally absorbed from the atmosphere during the biological materials' growth period. This means that planting as much biological matter as is used can effectively make biomass a carbon neutral source of power. The biomass source can be replaced by growing new biological material, rather than being a finite source (as is the case with fossil fuels like coal and oil).
Although a large portion of the materials used in biomass energy generation are grown specifically for that purpose, it is also possible to use refuse and waste, particularly for the creation of biogas. This effectively means that waste that might otherwise have been buried in landfill or left to decompose can instead be reused.
Because decomposing garbage is a significant producer of methane gas (which is incredibly harmful to the atmosphere, even more so than carbon dioxide), it is preferable to utilize the energy potential of the waste by harvesting this gas for electricity generation. Although the burning of the subsequent gas product does involve the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it is argued that this is preferable to the more harmful methane gas which would otherwise have been released through the natural decomposition of the garbage.
Fuel And Energy Generation
As biomass energy generation is still a predominately experimental field of science there are many different methods in use for harvesting and using biomass, and many different forms of biomass being relied upon as fuel. Because biomass includes any biological material that is living or recently dead the term encompasses garbage, sewage, wood, algae, plant oils and non-food residual parts of plants.
Because each of these types of biomass require different ways of being processed a number of techniques have been developed. Aside from anaerobic digestion (the process for converting landfill and waste into biogas), biomass can also be fermented or distilled, composted, burned, or processed through pyrolysis, acid hydrolysis or hydrogenation. Biomass is also being used experimentally for creating plastics, some of which dissolve in seawater.